Gene editing transforms gel into shape-shifting material

 

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The CRISPR technique can trigger the new material to release drugs or pick up biological signals

Is there anything CRISPR can’t do? Scientists have wielded the gene-editing tool to make scores of genetically modified organisms, as well as to track animal development, detect diseases and control pests. Now, they have found yet another application for it: using CRISPR to create smart materials that change their form on command.

The shape-shifting materials could be used to deliver drugs, and to create sentinels for almost any biological signal, researchers report in Science on 22 August1. The study was led by James Collins, a bioengineer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge.

Collins’ team worked with water-filled polymers that are held together by strands of DNA, known as DNA hydrogels. To alter the properties of these materials, Collins and his team turned to a form of CRISPR that uses a DNA-snipping enzyme called Cas12a. (The gene-editor CRISPR–Cas9 uses the Cas9 enzyme to snip a DNA sequence at the desired point.) The Cas12a enzyme can be programmed to recognize a specific DNA sequence. The enzyme cuts its target DNA strand, then severs single strands of DNA nearby.

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Gene-edited cattle have a major screwup in their DNA

 

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Bid for barnyard revolution is set back after regulators find celebrity “hornless” bovines contaminated by bacterial genes.

They were the poster animals for the gene-editing revolution, appearing in story after story. By adding just a few letters of DNA to the genomes of dairy cattle, a US startup company had devised a way to make sure the animals never grew troublesome horns.

To Recombinetics—the St. Paul, Minnesota gene-editing company that made the hornless cattle—the animals were messengers of a new era of better, faster, molecular farming. “This same outcome could be achieved by breeding in the farmyard,” declared the company’s then-CEO Tammy Lee Stanoch in 2017. “This is precision breeding.”

Except it wasn’t.

Food and Drug Administration scientists who had a closer look at the genome sequence of one of the edited animals, a bull named Buri, have discovered its genome contains a stretch of bacterial DNA including a gene conferring antibiotic resistance.

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Wait, What? The first human-monkey hybrid embryo was just created in China

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Last week, news broke that a prominent stem cell researcher is making human-monkey chimeras in a secretive lab in China.

The story, first reported by the Spanish newspaper El País, has all the ingredients of a bombshell. First, its protagonist is the highly-respected Dr. Juan Carlos Izpisúa Belmonte, a Spanish-born stem cell biologist at the Salk Institute in California known for his breakthroughs in anti-aging research. His other fascination? Human-animal chimeras, in which animal embryos are injected with human cells and further developed inside a surrogate animal’s body. Second, according to El País, Izpisúa Belmonte may have collaborated with monkey researchers in China to circumvent legal issues in the US and Spain, where research with primates is heavily regulated.

The news did not sit well with Chinese scientists, who are still recovering from the CRISPR baby scandal. “It makes you wonder, if their reason for choosing to do this in a Chinese laboratory is because of our high-tech experimental setups, or because of loopholes in our laws?” lamented one anonymous commentator on China’s popular social media app, WeChat.

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How scientists built a ‘living drug’ to beat cancer

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IN 2010, EMILY Whitehead was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, a cancer of certain cells in the immune system.

THIS IS THE most common form of childhood cancer, her parents were told, and Emily had a good chance to beat it with chemotherapy. Remission rates for the most common variety were around 85 percent.

It would be 20 months before they’d understand the shadow behind that sunny statistic, and the chilling prospect of volunteering their daughter as patient zero for the world’s first living drug.

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Proteins trapped in glass could yield new medicinal advances

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The protein, captured in an extremely thin piece of glass — around 50 nanometres in diameter, is sliced up, atom by atom, with the help of an electrical field. It is then analysed through Atom Probe Tomography, and the 3D structure is recreated on a computer. Credit: Small: Volume 15, Issue 24, Atom Probe Tomography for 3D Structural and Chemical Analysis of Individual Proteins Gustav Sundell, Mats Hulander, Astrid Pihl, Martin Andersson Copyright Wiley-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA. Reproduced with permission.

Researchers at Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden, have developed a unique method for studying proteins which could open new doors for medicinal research. Through capturing proteins in a nano-capsule made of glass, the researchers have been able to create a unique model of proteins in natural environments. The results are published in the scientific journal, Small.

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Elon Musk unveils Neuralink’s plans for brain-reading ‘threads’ and a robot to insert them

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Not for humans yet

The proposed future technology Neuralink intends to make, a module that sits outside the head and wirelessly receives information from threads embedded in the brain. Photo: Neuralink

Elon Musk’s Neuralink, the secretive company developing brain-machine interfaces, showed off some of the technology it has been developing to the public for the first time. The goal is to eventually begin implanting devices in paralyzed humans, allowing them to control phones or computers.

The first big advance is flexible “threads,” which are less likely to damage the brain than the materials currently used in brain-machine interfaces. These threads also create the possibility of transferring a higher volume of data, according to a white paper credited to “Elon Musk & Neuralink.” The abstract notes that the system could include “as many as 3,072 electrodes per array distributed across 96 threads.”

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South Korean tech breakthrough could change biofuels forever

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Researchers in South Korea have made a major breakthrough in using bacteria to sustainably and efficiently produce biofuels. The team of scientists from the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) report that they have developed a new kind of engineered microorganisms that are capable of producing greater volumes of the fatty acids that make up biodiesel than ever before.

A team of researchers from KAIST released a study detailing their discovery last month in the scientific journal Nature Chemical Biology. The paper, titled “Engineering of an oleaginous bacterium for the production of fatty acids and fuels” details the development of these record-breaking microorganisms which could prove to be a key breakthrough in the effort to develop sustainable, bio-based energy sources to replace dirtier, finite fossil fuels.

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New mind-controlled robot arm first to work without brain implant

 

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Just strap on the EEG cap and start thinking.

If you want to control a robot with your mind — and really, who doesn’t? — you currently have two options.

You can get a brain implant, in which case your control over the robot will be smooth and continuous. Or you can skip the risky, expensive surgery in favor of a device that senses your brainwaves from outside your skull — but your control over the bot will be jerky and not nearly as precise.

Now, a team from Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) is narrowing the gap between those two options, creating the first noninvasive mind-controlled robot arm that exhibits the kind of smooth, continuous motion previously reserved only for systems involving brain implants — putting us one step closer to a future in which we can all use our minds to control the tech around us.

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The Pentagon has a laser that can identify people from a distance—by their heartbeat

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The Jetson prototype can pick up on a unique cardiac signature from 200 meters away, even through clothes.

Everyone’s heart is different. Like the iris or fingerprint, our unique cardiac signature can be used as a way to tell us apart. Crucially, it can be done from a distance.

It’s that last point that has intrigued US Special Forces. Other long-range biometric techniques include gait analysis, which identifies someone by the way he or she walks. This method was supposedly used to identify an infamous ISIS terrorist before a drone strike. But gaits, like faces, are not necessarily distinctive. An individual’s cardiac signature is unique, though, and unlike faces or gait, it remains constant and cannot be altered or disguised.

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Scientists created bacteria with a synthetic genome. Is this artificial life?

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A colored scanning electron micrograph of the bacteria E. coli. Scientists in Britain created bacteria with “recoded” DNA.

In a milestone for synthetic biology, colonies of E. coli thrive with DNA constructed from scratch by humans, not nature.

Scientists have created a living organism whose DNA is entirely human-made — perhaps a new form of life, experts said, and a milestone in the field of synthetic biology.

Researchers at the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Britain reported on Wednesday that they had rewritten the DNA of the bacteria Escherichia coli, fashioning a synthetic genome four times larger and far more complex than any previously created.

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This DIY biohacker is under investigation

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Josiah Zayner rose to internet fame after performing various biohacking stunts on himself — including a livestreamed attempt to edit his own genes using CRISPR.

Those antics are coming to haunt Zayner. Now, the California Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) is investigating a “complaint of unlicensed practice of medicine” filed against him — a strange development that could have implications for the future of biohacking.

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New video shows 3D printed lung “breathing”

 

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First Breaths

Scientists just took a major step forward towards 3D printed organs — with a new lung-like system full of air sacs can expand and contract, filling the same biological role as our lungs do by pumping oxygen into blood.

Bioprinted organs could someday help people who are waiting and sometimes dying on the organ transplant waitlist. In research published in the journal Science last week, the team behind the new printing technique made a similar device and successfully grafted it into mice with injured livers.

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